Herstories: Stories of Mothers, Their Strengths and Successes

A mother’s love is natural and boundless. They are the homemakers and their ability to hold the entire house and its inhabitants together are, more often than not, extraordinary. Covering real life stories from real mothers in the areas of Killinochchi, Kurunegala, Ampara and Moneragela, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, the project, ‘Herstories’ is conserved and displayed by Radhika Hettiarachchi. It features powerful mothers, their maternal commitment and the hope they carry for the future.

herstories sri lanka

“It’s an unbearable pain I feel when I think of the son I lost to the war. It was when I came to this village that I was able to come to terms with my loss. It was because I saw other people who had similar experiences and had all gone through so much.”

The Trees of Life

Women were asked to write down their roots, experiences, hopes and dreams as well as their community and family they are surrounded by. This visual spectrum that the project features offers an extremely personal insight on what the women attempted to express.

tree of life

A woman in Kilinochchi created the above particular Tree of Life for the project. Each of the elements in the tree has a different meaning, signifying the woman’s past, surrounding or family. The project is highly distinguished because of Radhika’s creativity and unique effort to bring to surface these heart-breaking stories through the women she met.

Timelines

timelines her stories

‘Timelines’ are a part of the project where mothers from the selected districts were asked to sketch a short, colour-coded timeline where a fleeting glimpse into their lives are given. The timeline above speaks of a woman from Kurunegala who delivers her experience of being separated from their husbands and who are living in desperate circumstances;

“Although my husband is still in the Army, we have no fear now because the war is over.” 

Letters

This concept by the Herstories project was particularly poignant. Concerned mothers sent letters to certain organisations as well as the Herstories Project, pleading for help after either the death of their husbands or due to financial instability. The letters are short and provide an ephemeral outlook into the family history, but the impact they have on us is long-lasting.

Videos

The videos include interviews with the women and shed more light into their lives. Women who live in little huts that have war scars or take on the role of the breadwinner due to their depraved conditions speak strongly of their resilient nature.

Photo Essays

This approach showcases memories or photo journals of these women – photographs, identification cards of missing family members, bicycles or even small pieces of jewellery  that capture what they want to hold on to. It is incredible to see that no matter how much they have been through, loved and lost, they do not let go of the little flicker of hope that helps them to carry on in life.

Radhika Hettiarachchi said in an interview,

“These histories or ‘Herstories’ showcase a shared history and highlight how we Sri Lankans are rooted in multiple identities, multiple histories, and different experiences. Through the narratives of many, this project also highlights a sense of fundamental humanness that transcends boundaries. These ‘Herstories’ will not only add to the culture of oral tradition and storytelling in Sri Lanka, they will contribute to bringing diverse groups together through the lives of others.”

A project like the Herstories archive was vital in collecting various identities and accounts. Individual stories such as these are lost and buried through the years, and we are unaware of the consequences that families in the hearts of warzones had to bear. Through this initiative, we learn of all the ways a mother protects herself and her loved ones that are beyond traditional methods.

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